This paper first reviews the evolution of China’s IPR system with an emphasis on the patent system, which is mainly shaped by three forces including the transition to a market economy, the opening of the domestic market and the national initiatives for cultivating indigenous innovative capabilities. Then by using some unique data both at the national level and firm level, it analyses the patenting behaviours and strategies of foreign multinationals in China in comparison with local firms, which has yielded some interesting findings. First of all, the patent deployment of multinationals in China is mainly market-oriented and strategic. Although the negative perception of China’s IPR system has led multinationals to act defensively, they have been able to adapt to the Chinese system and maximise their economic benefits, in addition to gaining competitive advantages. Also, while multinationals’ patenting in China has created some obstacles for local firms to catch-up, it has also forced some of them to find new ways to innovate and develop their own capabilities.
Keywords: China’s IPR system, patent system, multinationals, patenting behaviours, patent strategies